By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007
The three Democrats on the Federal Election Commission revealed yesterday that they strongly believe President Bush exceeded legal spending limits during the 2004 presidential contest and that his campaign owes the government $40 million.
Their concerns spilled out during a vote to approve an audit of the Bush campaign's finances, which is conducted to make sure the campaign adhered to spending rules after accepting $74.6 million in public money for the 2004 general election.
Republican commissioners defended the way the Bush campaign billed the cost of more than $80 million in television ads, which were the source of the dispute.
The commission by statute comprises three Democrats and three Republicans. Commissioner Michael E. Toner, a Republican, resigned March 14, but the vote was taken before his departure. Because of the deadlock, the objections were recorded in a footnote to the audit but will not result in any sanctions or repayment.
"We had a disagreement on this audit, and it was a doozy," said one of the Democrats, Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub.
The dispute centered on the use of what the commissioners called "hybrid" ads, which were intended to promote both the president and Republican members of Congress. The Bush campaign argued that it should not bear the full cost of these ads, so it split the tab with the Republican Party.
As a result, only half of the cost would count toward spending limits imposed on the campaign when it agreed to take public funds. Weintraub said the spending limit is an essential part of the agreement candidates make to accept public financing. "Bush-Cheney 2004 took the $74 million, and then they broke the bargain," she said.
Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky, a Republican, strongly disagreed. "There was no broken bargain," he said. "There was no violation of the law."